Executive Briefing September 18 2020

COVID-19: Industry News & Response

Microsoft on the Issues Recovering from the pandemic: what policymakers and experts are saying
The world has now lived through half a year in which our normal economic and social existence has been upended by the strange new rules of a global pandemic. It is too soon to say that the crisis is over. While work on vaccines and therapies is advancing, the toll of sickness remains great. Employment and business activities are beginning to recover in many places, but are still far below normal levels almost everywhere. Yet, even as we all continue to battle the virus, governments and the private sector also need to look forward and think about how to build toward a recovery.

TechRepublic COVID-19’s “reboot” of the US tech workforce
It’s clear that the COVID-19 crisis had a quick and challenging impact on IT departments throughout the US, as tech staff were heavily relied upon to pivot and transition office staff, devices, and software to employees’ homes so they could work remotely. According to the report, 81% of tech talent are looking for a more affordable way of life, to suit their—and their families’—specific needs and preferences, even if it means leaving a location considered one of the US top tech hubs. More than half (61%) of tech workers report working in a fully remote environment.

The Roanoke Times How to detect COVID-19 before an outbreak? Virginia Tech scientists testing wastewater as a bellwether
When COVID-19 forced Virginia Tech to evacuate in the spring, university researchers wasted no time finding a novel way to detect potential coronavirus outbreaks on campus. Peter Vikesland, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, for several years has been studying how sewage treatment plants enable or inhibit antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Over the summer, he and a team began piling up samples of wastewater to analyze.

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Microsoft on the Issues New cyberattacks targeting U.S. elections
In recent weeks, Microsoft has detected cyberattacks targeting people and organizations involved in the upcoming presidential election, including unsuccessful attacks on people associated with both the Trump and Biden campaigns, as detailed below. We have and will continue to defend our democracy against these attacks through notifications of such activity to impacted customers, security features in our products and services, and legal and technical disruptions.

TechCrunch A bug in Joe Biden’s campaign app gave anyone access to millions of voter files
A privacy bug in Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s official campaign app allowed anyone to look up sensitive voter information on millions of Americans, a security researcher has found. The campaign app, Vote Joe, allows Biden supporters to encourage friends and family members to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election by uploading their phone’s contact lists to see if their friends and family members are registered to vote. The app uploads and matches the user’s contacts with voter data supplied from TargetSmart, a political marketing firm that claims to have files on more than 191 million Americans.

Politico Russia is back, wilier than ever — and it’s not alone
Russian operatives are using a sneakier, more sophisticated version of their 2016 playbook to undermine the November election — and this time, groups inside and outside the U.S. are furthering their goal of sowing chaos. Kremlin-backed operatives are flooding social media with fake accounts and stoking racial divisions around topics like Black Lives Matter. Articles in state-owned Russian media with millions of U.S. readers online seek to dampen Joe Biden’s appeal among progressives and echo President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims about voting fraud. At the same time, Russian state-backed hackers are waging cyberattacks against political parties, campaigns, consultants and others tied to the U.S. elections — using more elaborate deceptions than in 2016, Microsoft said last week.

NBC With election cybersecurity experts in short supply, some states call in the National Guard
Warren County in North Carolina has only three full-time staff members, and none of them are computer specialists. That could matter in a year in which foreign governments are eyeing ways to disrupt the November election. So the county’s election director, Debbie Formyduval, has welcomed cybersecurity experts from the state’s National Guard to help shore up the systems. “I’m a small county,” Formyduval said. “And it allows me — it affords me the opportunity to feel comfortable with my IT and where I am compared to a larger county in the state.”

Bloomberg Trump Team’s China Focus Distracts From Russia Election Meddling
U.S. intelligence and national security agencies face a new obstacle in protecting this year’s election: an effort by President Donald Trump and some of his top appointees to downplay the threat posed by Russia while inflating the danger from China, according to officials. Top political appointees — including Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr — have suggested in recent weeks that China is the bigger election threat even though intelligence assessments don’t confirm that assertion.

THIS WEEK IN WASHINGTON

CNN US will ban WeChat and TikTok downloads on Sunday
The Commerce Department plans to restrict access to TikTok and WeChat on Sunday as the Trump administration’s executive orders against the two apps are set to take effect. The Department said Friday that as of Sunday, any moves to distribute or maintain WeChat or TikTok on an app store will be prohibited.

The Hill House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats
The House on Monday passed legislation to improve the security of federal internet-connected devices, with the bill garnering bipartisan support.  The Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act, passed unanimously by the House, would require all internet-connected devices purchased by the federal government — including computers, mobile devices and other products with the ability to connect to the internet — to comply with minimum security recommendations issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Bloomberg U.S. Google Antitrust Case Set to Expand With GOP States Joining
About a dozen states, mostly led by Republicans, are expected to join the Justice Department’s upcoming antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google, according to people familiar with the investigation. Nearly every state attorney general is investigating the company in a parallel probe focused on the company’s online advertising business and led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton could join the Justice Department case while readying his own complaint, which is likely to remain separate, one of the people said.

CNN Personal information of roughly 46,000 veterans exposed in VA hack
The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday that roughly 46,000 veterans had their personal information, including Social Security numbers, exposed in a data breach in which “unauthorized users” gained access to an online application used for making health care payments. A preliminary review of the incident indicated that the hackers accessed the application “to change financial information and divert payments from VA by using social engineering techniques and exploiting authentication protocols,” according to the department’s announcement.

Forbes Republican Senators Write To Trump Opposing TikTok-Oracle Deal
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Thom Tillis, Roger Wicker, Rick Scott, Dan Sullivan, and John Cornyn sent a letter to the Trump administration on Wednesday highlighting their concerns over the proposed deal between Oracle and TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, which would allow the Chinese company to retain ownership of TikTok.

ARTICLE SUMMARY

The Verge Democrats call on telcos to lift overage fees for students
A group of Democratic senators is calling on the telecom industry to lift their limits and fees associated with heightened broadband use for students in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In a letter addressed to the CEOs of telecom companies including AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and T-Mobile Friday, senators like Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) requested that the telecoms temporarily suspend data caps, overage fees, and throttling as students across the country begin remote schooling.

Computer Weekly BP and Microsoft extend cloud deal with clean energy agreement
BP and Microsoft have signed a strategic partnership to extend digital transformation ‎in energy systems and reduce carbon emissions. As well as using Microsoft Azure for cloud-based IT infrastructure, through the partnership, BP will supply renewable energy to help Microsoft meet its 2025 ‎renewable energy goals.‎

Innovation Stories Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably
Earlier this summer, marine specialists reeled up a shipping-container-size datacenter coated in algae, barnacles and sea anemones from the seafloor off Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The retrieval launched the final phase of a years-long effort that proved the concept of underwater datacenters is feasible, as well as logistically, environmentally and economically practical. Microsoft’s Project Natick team deployed the Northern Isles datacenter 117 feet deep to the seafloor in spring 2018.

Associated Press Northern Virginia school system hacked, data held for ransom
Virginia’s largest school system has been hacked and the attackers are seeking a ransom payment to keep them from disclosing stolen personal information. WRC-TV in Washington reports that the internet hacking group Maze posted some of the data stolen from Fairfax County Public Schools, including student disciplinary records and grades, to prove its hack was successful. The school system confirmed the hack and said it is investigating and working with law enforcement.

Bloomberg Google Faces $3 Billion U.K. Suit Over Use of Children’s Data
Alphabet Inc.’s Google faces a multibillion-dollar lawsuit in the U.K. over claims that YouTube routinely breaks privacy laws by tracking children online. The suit, filed on behalf of more than 5 million British children under 13 and their parents, is being brought by privacy campaigner Duncan McCann and being supported by Foxglove, a tech justice group. The claimants estimate that if they’re successful, there would be as much as 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) in compensation, worth between 100 to 500 pounds per child.

THINK TANK/TECH TRADE ASSOCIATION HIGHLIGHTS

The Brookings Institution 

  • Blog on education and broadband access.
    Hooray for the broadband industry! It is time for some good news! America’s broadband providers have stepped up with the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband” to help meet the needs of millions of low-income American students who are unable to get on the internet so they can go to class from home. The national non-profit EducationSuperHighway estimates that 9.7 million students—half of which are students of color—do not have the home internet necessary for the COVID era’s online educational needs. Together, EducationSuperHighway and NCTA-the Internet & Television Association created the new program, subsequently to be joined by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and USTelecom. America’s cable broadband providers are stepping up to a national emergency. To apply Winston Churchill’s description of the Lend-Lease program, what the industry has done is “the most unsordid act.” The new program will do two things the Trump Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to do. First, it will identify households with students that have broadband passing their door but have chosen not to subscribe. Having identified those households, the companies then offer school districts and other local entities special rates to provide discounted broadband service for the identified homes. (TechTank –The broadband industry steps up to connect students when the FCC will not, September 15, 2020)

S&P Global 

  • Analysis: Is the U.S. falling behind in green tech investment?
    On the list of countries unveiling green fiscal stimulus policies in recent months there is one glaring omission. Despite unleashing $3 trillion of measures to tackle the economic consequences of the coronavirus, the U.S. federal government has channeled just 1.1% toward initiatives that could help its transition to a more environmentally sustainable economy, according to Rhodium Group. The decision by the Republican-controlled Senate to keep any green measures out of the three stimulus bills passed to date by Congress contrasts starkly with Europe, where governments have used the pandemic as an opportunity to invest in the technology they believe will drive economic growth in the coming decades. The European Union and individual member states have dedicated 20% of their combined stimulus spending to green projects, the Rhodium data show. The risk for the U.S. is that it falls behind during a key period of transition for the global economy as it pivots to the use of cleaner materials and less polluting sources of energy. As the EU advances plans for a carbon border tax, which would add tariffs to imported goods depending on the emissions generated in their manufacture, U.S. exports could become less competitive if the country cannot clean up its industrial output. (Market Intelligence – US risks green tech leadership as Europe makes play with COVID-19 stimulus, September 14, 2020)

World Economic Forum 

  • Blog on digital supply chain advancements after COVID-19.
    The COVID-19 outbreak disrupted supply chains and business continuity plans around the world – especially for factories. As the pandemic triggered travel restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing requirements, a number of important challenges emerged for businesses. They included running essential functions and business continuity plans for normal operations, giving workers safe physical access to sites and coping with a much-reduced workforce, and ensuring the timely support, supply and successful delivery of essential equipment. Nokia’s leading 5G manufacturing plant in Oulu, Finland, faced an additional challenge. The factory’s output is technically complex and relentlessly intense, producing roughly 1,000 4G and 5G base stations per day. During the pandemic, that output became mission critical as customers, including some of the world’s largest service providers and enterprises, had to meet new communication workloads and connectivity demands created by the pandemic. (Agenda –These 7 tech investments are critical to building ‘intelligent factories’ after COVID-19, September 14, 2020)

Note: Voices for Innovation regularly shares a range of opinion articles and press releases from organizations in and publications covering tech policy. These pieces are meant to educate our audience, not to endorse specific platforms or bills.